For a long time, it has been on my bucket list to visit all 62 of the United States’ national parks. I have started to make a dent in them, with my current count sitting somewhere north of a dozen. From rock formations in Utah, to Giant Sequoia trees in California, to Arizona’s beautiful desert landscapes, to Florida’s oceans, the parks preserve every beautiful ecosystem imaginable. I like to travel off of the beaten path, and using parks as my destination make this possible, even in a place like Florida which is notorious for being overrun with developments and resorts.
The Everglades were beautiful. The heat and humidity were a shock to my Vermont body, but a nice ocean breeze made the heat bearable. In a rented canoe, Greg and I paddled around canals, seeing crocodiles, egrets, herons, and so many other birds we did not recognize. Mangroves surrounded us, with palms in the distance, and swamp grass in between.
As we left the park and headed north towards our Airbnb, it struck me how fast the world changed as we rolled down the highway. Where we had been surrounded by vegetation so thick you could see no further than five feet into the brush, the scenery gave way to pavement, rows of small tan houses, chain linked fences, and shopping centers. The heat in the park had seemed mellow compared to the sun that beat down on the asphalt. We passed between carefully manicured resort towns and forgotten working class neighborhoods. Just as fast as the wild beauty of the swamp had given way to sprawl, the tiki bars resorts gave way to plain, simple homes and run down convenience stores.
For me, one of the most fascinating and most difficult parts of traveling is looking through a window into other people’s lives, and other places’ cultures. Sitting at a dive bar, in some long forgotten town in the midwest, and hearing the story of a farmer’s day to day life will keep me on the edge of my seat, completely fascinated by how different someone can be from me, and yet, at the same time, how similar. Being that far out of my element has humbled me time and time again. It was a completely new, and honesty uncomfortable, experience for me to be the only white person in line at the Florida grocery store where we stopped. I felt, for no reason, that I had to be super extra polite in order to portray white people as a whole in a good light. But I felt that this five minutes of discomfort opened my eyes to what it might feel like to be a person of color in Vermont.
The next day, Greg and I took a boat out to the coral reef off of the northern Keys in Biscayne national park to go snorkeling. The ocean has always seemed to instill a sense of longing in me. The people who live along its shore have always seemed to have such a strong identity with and love for it. And the stories and legends of people who have sailed away into the sunset never disappoint.
Snorkeling was a beautiful experience. Colorful fish wove in and out of gently swaying coral, as the ocean gently rocked my floating body back and fourth. I should probably mention, before I bring this somewhat overly romanticized paragraph to a close, that I did get seasick and threw up over the side of the boat, but I guess thats just part of the experience.
With two more national parks checked off of my list, we headed to the airport yesterday morning. Stepping out of Logan International Airport with sub freezing temperatures was just as surreal as it had been three days before when we stepped into the parking lot in Palm Beach Florida. But as always, I felt glad to be home, with a few more adventures under my belt.